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Best Music of 2003 | #6-10

That favorite rite of passage for all music critics is here again . . . the annual top 10 lists, or in this case top 50. As in years past, we have top 10s from the whole crew of regular PopMatters music writers, but this year we're adding a twist. What you have before you is our mammoth list of the 50 best records of the year as voted on by our entire music staff.

BEST MUSIC OF 2003 6 - 10
forward to 1-5 >

It Still Moves (ATO)
It's a wonder I'm still moving after my first listen to this record, after coming face-to-face with a mix of musical strength and grace that launches My Morning Jacket from a promising band to a great one. The sprawling, epic, at times transcendent "Mahgeeta" is just the tip of the iceberg; It Still Moves is not only proof that My Morning Jacket deserve every ounce of hype they've ever gotten (even the troubling moment when it seemed like they'd be MTV darlings), but also that the Americana movement does still have some uncharted territory left to explore.
      � Andrew Gilstrap :. original PopMatters review

I despise southern rock. It is one of the few genres of music that I have never come close to embracing in any meaningful way. But Kentucky's My Morning Jacket snuck their way into my listening pile disguised as an indie band. And so, you could imagine my response when those twangy, electric guitars opened "Dancefloors". I was not happy. I felt cheated and tricked. I won't say anything more about this album other than I spent countless hours debating whether or not to make it my album of the year. I also subsequently bought a MMJ T-shirt. I haven't bought a rock T-shirt in years. I love this album with a disturbing passion. Buy it now.
      � Michael Beaumont :. original PopMatters review

Shine a Lights (Sub Pop)
One of the most ferocious, passionate indie rock albums to come out in a while, Shine a Light has Guelph, Ontario's the Constantines emerging as one of Canada's very best bands. Much has been made about how they shamelessly lift their sound from Fugazi and the Afghan Whigs, and how singer Bryan Webb's gruff voice brings to mind the likes of Joe Strummer and a young Bruce Springsteen, but there's so much more going on beneath the obvious influences. "National Hum" and "Tank Commander" are brutally rough-edged, "Poison" broods intensely, "Young Lions" rejoices, and "Insectivora" combines Clash style bass with layers of grating guitars. Nothing can top the brilliant "Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright)", a dark, fiery anthem during which Webb preaches, "It's hard not to surrender to the bold and comely words / What sway the bloody minded / What hang above the graceless herd / It's hard not to surrender, but I will dance down through the alleyways / With one foot in the gutter". Amen.
      � Adrien Begrand :. original PopMatters review

With husky vocals reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, relentlessly angular guitars along the lines of Fugazi, and hyper-literate lyrics fit for Kerouac, the Constantines are one of a kind -- itself an accomplishment in a year full of bands merely echoing a finite set of influences. As good as this album is, though, its ambition leaves open leaves the tantalizing possibility that whatever vocalist Bryan Webb and the band release next could well be a masterpiece for the ages.
      � Marc Hogan :. original PopMatters review

Transatlanticism (Barsuk)
Transatlanticism is worth inclusion for the title track alone, a gorgeous, eight-minute meditation on long distance romance. As it turns out, Ben Gibbard & co. surrounded "Transatlanticism" with nine other songs that are as good or better. "We Looked Like Giants" beats Robert Smith at his own game of dealing with the awkwardness of young love, and "Expo '86" sports a chorus Billy Corgan would kill for. They even got name-checked by Seth Cohen in The O.C.. Welcome to the big time, boys.
      � David Medsker :. original PopMatters review

I love it when bands get better with age! Seriously, I get so nervous before one of my favorite bands releases a new album, because I'm worried it's not going to be as good as previous releases. Well, nothing to fear. Death Cab's latest, Transatlanticism, is the band at its best. Singer Ben Gibbard's lyrics have never been stronger or more vivid, especially on "Title and Registration", a song about stumbling upon an artifact from a previous relationship. On "Passenger Seat", the album's most delicately beautiful track, the entire band comes together to create a late-night car ride down an empty, country road. And that's what's so great about this album: the band functions as a finely-honed, cohesive unit. The guys in the band nail every single song, which is what guitarist Chris Walla is most proud of. He connected lyrically with every song. This is clearly illustrated throughout the album, as the band members perform each song with passion, poise, and dedication to their art. Transatlanticism is an album to listen to from start to finish -- an indie-pop journey about long-distance love and the passage of time.
      � Christine Klunk :. original PopMatters review

Think Tank (Parlophone/Food)
The exotic inflections of Morocco compensate for the farewell (temporary or otherwise) to guitar stalwart Graham Coxon and Damon Albarn's golden touch as songwriter, through early Blur to the global stampede of Gorillaz, has not deserted him. Shifting easily from the sweet jangle of the kora to the beefed up soup of a Fat Boy Slim re-mix, from North Africa to North London, Think Tank, proves, as if we didn't know it already, that in the phoney wars with the Gallagher brothers in the swell of Britpop's brief ascendancy of the mid-1990s, the arty Londoners were working in a rather different league. "Out of Time" and "Good Song" were majestic but best of all is the final cut "Battery in Your Leg", maudlin and muscular at the very same time. Eclectic yet utterly confident, this record is rock escaping its urban manacles and going on safari.
      � Simon Warner :. original PopMatters review

Being that Think Tank was an album that I was fully prepared to despise, I am as dumbfounded as anyone that it tops my list of the year's best LPs. Now don't get me wrong, Blur is one of my most beloved bands, but after Graham Coxen's departure and the abysmal 13 album, I wasn't hopeful. In fact, even after listening to Think Tank for the first time I can honestly say I was underwhelmed. But I kept listening, and kept listening, and slowly but surely a new song made itself evident after each listen. Soon enough, it never left my CD player. It might be Blur's most rewarding album. A treasure.
      � Michael Beaumont :. original PopMatters review

Room on Fire (RCA)
With the crushing weight of expectation on the Strokes' collective shoulders following the massively praised Is This It, plans were initially made with Radiohead svengali Nigel Godrich to produce their follow-up effort. It appeared the boys were determined to avoid the sophomore slump, and when they fired Nigel Godrich after a few short weeks questions became more pointed as fans and critics wondered alike if the Strokes would ever manage to come close to the perfection of their debut. Reteaming with Is This It producer Gordon Raphael, the Strokes once again recorded a gem -- eleven tracks of rock n' roll perfection and a textbook on songwriting and arranging. Naysayers that accuse the band of rehashing their debut aren't listening close enough. Room on Fire reveals influences ranging from the soul of Al Green, the reggae of Bob Marley and the pop urgency of the Cars. Where Is This It was a lonely cry from the ragged streets of New York, Room on Fire found the band with more swagger in their step and a few more hearts pinned to their sleeves.
      � Kevin Jagernauth :. original PopMatters review

Room On Fire sounds just like Is This It, with a few spurts of growth, but not too many. So what? Sticking with the ain't-broke-don't-fix-it motto works just fine. Julian Casablancas continues his microphone inserted in mouth, disaffected lounge singer routine, with the ideal match in the minimal guitar and bass lines. The real star, surprisingly, is drummer Fab Moretti. His beats keep the music together, most noticeably on what may be the band's best song yet, the languorous crooner "Under Control." The Strokes still act like they don't care what anyone thinks, and when the music is this good � they shouldn't have to.
      � Michael Christopher :. original PopMatters review

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